Course: Three Great English Novelists

HC 421H

Professor: Henry Alley

The texts are Austen's Persuasion (1818), Eliot's Middlemarch (1872), and Lawrence's Women in Love (1920). Taken together, they represent, in my estimation, the three peak achievements of the three greatest novelists in English. We will explore, through lecture and primarily discussion, how Austen pioneered in literary characterization, developing, ultimately, her consummate portrait of Anne Elliot, the delicately nuanced heroine of her last novel. We will then consider how George Eliot (Marian Evans) learned to enlarge on Austen's psychology to create her multi-faceted study of the questing Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate, the idealistic protagonists featured in the rich provincial community set in Middlemarch (1872, the greatest novel in English). From there we will examine how Lawrence, an early devotee of Eliot, took on what he saw as the physical/spiritual crisis of the twentieth century, embodying it in the dueling lovers Rupert Birkin and Ursula Brangwen. When looking at Women in Love, we will see how this more recent novel both absorbs and challenges the legacies of Austen and Eliot, with attention given to Lawrence's battle with the censors, his struggles with gayness and bisexuality both within and outside the novel, and his ambivalent reconcilement with the empowerment of women in post-World War I.

Additional reading will include one short novel, Daughters of the Vicar (1914), as an introduction to Lawrence's complex thought, and there will an option of reading the remarkable screenplay (1970) of Women in Love, written by the American gay activist, Larry Kramer, as well as the option of reading the novel, The Rainbow (1915), Women in Love's predecessor.

There will be two short papers and a long one. A reading journal will be optional. Time in class will be supplemented with seeing clips from videos of all three novels, listening to tapes, and hearing volunteer students read passages aloud, so that the great beauty of the language and the complexity of the scenes may be more fully enjoyed.

If you plan to take the course, please start reading Middlemarch (Norton Critical Edition, 2nd Edition) as soon as possible. It is approximately 560 pages-and very large ones! It is about the length of two Austen novels.